Escape Games Canada – The Ark [Review]

Ark Deco

Location: North York, Ontario, Canada

Date Played: May 1, 2022

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.98 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: notify your gamemaster if you have concerns about the set shaking

Emergency Exit Rating:  [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Ark was an aesthetically pleasing experience with a fantastic opener. Taking overt inspiration from the first Bioshock game, we found ourselves in the beautiful, abandoned ruins of an undersea, art deco city.

A dark hallway with a tall art deco statue holding a key at the end.
Image via Escape Games Canada

I’ll be honest, there was a lot of story, and while I usually follow that sort of thing closely… there was a bit too much going on in the narrative for me.

From a gameplay standpoint The Ark was a good time, but undermined itself with cramped quarters. We were constantly in each other’s way.

The last act contained a number of decisions that felt frustrating – not in understanding, as it was clear what needed to happen – but in execution.

I enjoyed The Ark, but the deeper we pushed into the game, the more a singular question kept popping into my mind: “What do the creators of this game want me to feel right now?” All too often, I found myself frustrated with myself and my teammates (which isn’t a common response for me). We were always in each others way… or someone wasn’t executing perfectly and so the grind continued.

I’ve long waited to experience a proper Bioshock-inspired game… and aesthetically The Ark got there. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re in the area. From a gameplay and environmental storytelling standpoint, however, there is still opportunity to fully realize the grandeur of Rapture.

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Escape Games Canada – The Missing Will [Review]

“From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.” – The Shunned House

Location:  North York, Ontario Canada

Date Played: May 1, 2022

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.98 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: There is a toy gun in this experience.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Missing Will was a confounding experience. It opened with a strong pregame show… and then it tumbled downhill from there.

This licensed Mansions of Madness experience came complete with Lovecraftian-style and art & audio assets, characters, and plot points from the Fantasy Flight tabletop game.

Gerald's silhouette in a window high up above the gated starting area of the game.
Image via Escape Games Canada

The crux of this game was that we were in a manor’s dark basement solving some maddening puzzles. I like Lovecraftian horror just as much as the next nerd… so I get that Lovecraftian horror demands some darkness, and I assume that the obnoxious puzzles were meant to represent the Mansions of Madness mechanic where losing sanity points is one of the ways that your character can die.

But… creative spotlighting is the way that you make a horror environment dark and still fun to play in. We had a whole talk at RECON 21 about this. It’s on YouTube for anyone who wants to learn how to do this well.

The gameplay felt like a gallery filled with puzzles that most anyone will understand how to do, but not want to solve. The two times where The Missing Will had “simon” puzzles that were set too fast felt emblematic of what I found so distasteful in this game. There are ways to make a puzzle that makes me feel like I am losing my mind in a narrative way… and then there are ways to make puzzles that make me feel like I’m agitated.

To top this all off, the last act felt laughable. It was the weakest segment that I have ever seen Escape Games Canada produce, and this is a company that I have long held in high regard. This final space was the only room in the game that didn’t need good lighting; it was over-lit, making the key set pieces feel hokey and childish when they should have felt imposing and scary. Then there was the touchscreen puzzle sequence that made absolutely no sense. The biggest mystery in this game was how this final puzzle sequence found its way into the finale of a game made by Escape Games Canada.

There are plenty of strong elements in The Missing Will including elegantly designed and built set pieces, and some neat moments… but overall, this felt subpar for Escape Games Canada. This is a company that I have been recommending for years. I always look forward to playing their latest and greatest. Maybe I am expecting too much of them, but I’d recommend anything else in their building over The Missing Will.

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Crypto Escape Rooms – The Lost Shipwreck [Review]

A tale of a bird and his pirate

Location: Newmarket, Ontario, Canada

Date Played: May 2, 2022

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.98 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The painstaking craftsmanship that went into the creation of Crypto Escape Rooms’ The Lost Shipwreck was highly evident. We were delighted to explore it.

The detail-oriented nature of the set, including aspects of the ship itself, were revealed throughout the storyline in dramatic and fitting flourishes alongside natural game flow progression. This atmospheric tone also carried over into the accompanying lighting for the space, setting the mood while still enabling us to clearly see the tasks at hand.

An adorable parrot in a tri-corner hat, with an artificial win made of wood, rope, and cloth.

We appreciated the detail of character assigned to the pirate; however, momentum suffered in the final puzzle. While the multiple iterations required to assemble the final solution narratively made sense, in practice this sequence struggled to hit the high note necessary to be the capstone for the experience.

The Lost Shipwreck would be suitable for families and groups of friends alike, providing a visual playground of interactions for all in the space. Those in the greater Toronto region would do well to exchange ye doubloons for a treasure hunt throughout this particular cavern.

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REVO Escape – The Lab: Lockdown [Review]

Prison Simulator

Location:  Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

Date Played: May 2, 2022

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: It’s Complicated

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: Players need physical dexterity and strength to fully participate in this experience. At minimum, 2 players need to be fully physically capable.

Emergency Exit Rating: [B] Emergency Key

Physical Restraints: [B] Mechanical Release

REA Reaction

The Lab: Lockdown took two of our least favorite escape room settings – prison and lab – and smashed them together. In some ways playing this game felt like an absolute disaster, while in many others it was a triumph. It was a weird game, from a strange company, so buckle up, because we’re going on a journey.

As far as labs and prisons go, REVO Escape made both sides of this experience unique and compelling. Setting us in a dystopian sci-fi narrative where we were prisoners being experimented on allowed them to create a sense of purpose for both the prison and the lab. Neither felt generic (which is part of why these settings usually disappoint). The story was legitimately interesting… I bought it.

A lab for human study, there is an assortment of equipment, but it looks in disarray, there is blood spatter on the fllor.

Where things got really unusual in The Lab: Lockdown was the punishing physicality of the entire experience. REVO strives for mimetic design, which means that they want you treating everything like it’s an actual scenario, and The Lab: Lockdown had a MacGyver theme to essentially all of its challenges.

To that end, the bonkers solution to the first challenge seemed unreasonable… and it truly was unreasonable. Doable? Yeah… but it mostly involved 2 teammates; no one else could help them in a meaningful way. In our case, David sat in his prison cell with essentially nothing to do for 40 minutes. Yes, it took us 40 minutes to complete the first challenge.

Beyond that, there was an obstacle course that included scaling an 8-foot wall with very little headroom at its peak.

There was also a challenge in this game that David and I completed together. We have never felt more accomplished in an escape room than we did after defeating this monster.

Throughout it all, we picked up many bruises, cuts, and scrapes. I’d guess that the REVO Escape staff are more familiar with their first aid kit than any other escape room company we’ve visited.

Lisa's elbow with a big bruise on it.
One of many.

The Lab: Lockdown was a weird beast. Switching almost at random from boring to exciting to curious to punishing, the entire experience felt chaotic, unapologetic, and unforgiving. It was as easy to love this game as it was to hate it, and frequently both all at the same time.

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Crypto Escape Rooms – The Extraction [Review]

Corporate Invasion

Location: Newmarket, Ontario, Canada

Date Played: May 2, 2022

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.98 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: If you’re worried about set movement, speak to your gamemaster beforehand.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The beauty of The Extraction was in Crypto Escape Rooms’ restraint.

They created a beautiful and robust world with incredible interactions. They could have allowed us to linger on the details of their world, but instead they showed us glimpses that left us wanting more. Where many creators would have overdone a single idea, they resisted this temptation. The result: even more special and memorable moments.

Whereas in Golden Lock Award-winning Below Zero, a character led us through our adventure, in The Extraction, the characters and narrative were more subtle. We went on a winding journey complete with puzzles that tied the beautiful world to the story.

A long corridor that looks like a cross between a sewer and a machine with various wheels and switches.

While the set and story took unexpected twists and turns, the puzzles leaned heavily on a single style. Although we appreciated the different iterations on a theme, if this is not your type of puzzle, this gameplay could easily feel repetitive and frustrating.

Few companies rival Crypto’s ability to blend narrative, gameplay, and set into a cohesive experience. Crypto Escape Rooms is located outside of Toronto in Newmarket. I guarantee it’s worth going out of your way to visit them.

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